Here’s the plot. Ill-natured Vijay Singh (Salman Khan) is the Yuvraj of Pritampura. There’s a plot afoot to overthrow him orchestrated by his own brother Ajay Singh (Neil Nithin Mukesh) which nearly succeeds. Basically, your usual ho-hum princely state intrigue, certainly not plot-worthy in itself. To protect the prince, his aides plant a look-alike to play him. The good-natured and non-royal Prem lacks the prince’s attachment to tradition, surliness and entitlement. Prem’s man-of-the-peopleness is never more apparent than when he sings a rather endearing song about chiwda, burfi and gujjiya. In other words, food you’ll be hard-pressed to find in a multiplex. Hardly a surprise then the film is apparently doing really well in single screens.
For the short time that Prem is installed in place of the prince, he continues unschooled in the art of being egotistical and reticent. Instead he’s likable, goofy and unpredictable. He discovers a terrible rift between the Prince and his two half-sisters Chandrika, (the older one played by Swara Bhaskar) and Radhika (Aashika Bhatia). At the start of the film, we are shown how dysfunctional these sibling relationships are. When the real prince visits his sister she refuses to see him without a lawyer present. Into this situation walks Prem-as-prince, who tries multiple times to mend fences with his sisters. He simply doesn’t understand why they refuse all contact, especially when he turns on 100-watt filmi charm. Or tries to win them over with Croma house appliances. Thankfully, his sisters don’t fall for the bargain: a toaster as compensation for a life of shame.
Then we are told that story. The sisters’ mother was a tawaif shunned by the late king and his late wife, after a fight broke out between the children. They had suffered the trauma of illegitimate birth. So, when Prem-as-prince finally asks Chandrika what it will take to reconcile them, she says, point blank “The mahal you live in”. Chandrika only meets her brothers with a lawyer present because a re-allocation of property is the only acceptable balm to her psychic wounds.
In a grand act during his coronation, Prem-as-prince has property deeds drawn up. Chandrika and Radhika are now part owners of all the property Pitampura has and, we are told, some mansions in Paris and London. The prince’s advisors are unambiguously against this — they see such a move as gambling away hard-won tradition. Prem had just said no to the practice of primogeniture — the rule by which the first-born son inherits all property and a deep structuring force of patriarchies across time. It’s really not often a man from a landed-caste offers to give up half his property share for sisters. In real life or in a Salman Khan movie. In India, women account only for 9.5 percent of land-holders.
The audience’s surprise is mirrored by Chandrika who is thrilled by this gesture. She rushes toward Prem and embraces him. Then, in a counter act of ‘goodwill’, she rips those property papers to shreds as if to say, only the gesture mattered not the property. I almost had to avert my eyes. She clearly doesn’t want her brother to think she is a gold-digger.
It’s worth asking Sooraj Barjatya and the makers of the film what is so unthinkable about a woman getting the family property and keeping it. Why did the plot have to do such a quick backtrack? All I could think, looking at Chandrika was “don’t do it, sister!”. No male family member’s approval is worth this. Take the property and run. Then watch the brothers take each other down (which incidentally covers the rest of plot) from a safe distance.